Sunday, May 19, 2013

Doodles and Strip Searching for Web Strippers

Doodles: I, Panda

I don't remember the precise circumstances, or how the whole thing got started, but I was at work one day and was eavesdropping on a conversation when someone dropped the phrase "iPanda." The conversation was entertaining, but I've utterly forgotten the context in which it came up. I do remember that one of my co-workers was really into the idea of an "iPanda" and thought the idea of a Panda with the Apple logon his chest was adorable. 

Between calls and emails that day I doodled out a quick panda with the iconic apple on his chest on a sticky note and put it on her desk. To preserve her dignity and the perception of her professionalism I will just say that her reaction was enthusiastic. 

After that I would occasionally put a new version of the iPanda on her desk. The one to the right here is one I don't think I ever gave her. It's a riff on Kung-Fu Panda that I called "iPanda Classic." 

Penny Arcade: Searching for "Strippers"

Images used without permission, please click the image above to visit the show's website. You won't be disappointed. 

I really can't wait to see how many hits I get based on that heading alone. 

Neither my wife nor I have ever been fans of reality television. Whether it's the over-wrought drama of the contestants, the contrived circumstances, or the plainly rehearsed "spontaneous" moments, there's always something that is just...grating about the whole thing. If were to put that in a twitter-friendly format it would say something like, "I have better things to do than watch hateful, narcissistic assholes be nasty to each other." 

With that said, both of us have been completely sucked in by Strip Search on Penny Arcade's website. For those who don't know (though I'm not sure anyone who reads this would fit that description) Penny Arcade is arguably the most successful webcomic online right now. It has been running since 1998 and maintaining a rock-solid three-strips-a-week schedule. Penny Arcade is drawn by Mike Krahulik and written by Jerry Holkins.

Both Krahulik and Holkins are huge fans of reality television. They started exploring the medium with their web-series "The Fourth Panel" which features them at work developing the comics that get posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Strip Search goes deeper in to the reality television format and brings to life something...wonderful. 

The concept of the show is straightforward enough, and familiar to those of us who remember watching "The Real World" in its first couple of seasons. All of the contestants share accommodations in a gorgeous and well appointed (and well-stocked) lakefront house somewhere in Seattle. Each episode features interviews with the contestants talking directly into the camera about the events of the day.

The show also brings in competitive aspects from shows like Survivor and The Bachelor, and each day two contestants must face an elimination round. One goes home, one goes back to the house, and the challenges continue the next day.

Krahulik and Holkins have assumed a cold, aloof, distant persona for the purposes of the show, presumably for dramatic effect. It comes off as a kind of a nerdy Bond-villain type vibe. To anyone who has watched "The Fourth Panel" or met them in person the contrast with who they really are is jarring. These are two of the nicest, most affable, most giving guys on the planet. Fortunately they frequently break character and you get to see them for the wonderful human beings they really are. 

At one point Krahulik even loses his temper when he has to send someone home at the end of an elimination round, and the work that is the basis for the decision is of such a high quality he can't bring himself to destroy it (in previous elimination rounds they destroyed the strip created by the losing contestant). In a moving moment he offers a testimonial to how much he likes the contestant's work and can't bring himself to destroy and instead hands it back for that person to keep; an invaluable memento of an amazing experience (and the fact that this contestant had already won a Wacom Cintiq HD probably didn't suck, either). 

The contestants are, for lack of something even more glowing to say about them, amazing. Each one is a fine artist in his or her own right and each of them is an established web cartoonist to a greater or lesser degree. In at least two cases (Erika Moen and Katie Rice) they already have an established fan base that even extends to some of their fellow contestants.  Artistic ability notwithstanding, these are people I'd like to hang out with on a regular basis. They are genial, open, friendly, and willing to share. It's a testament to their character that each time one of them is asked to nominate two others to go to eliminations it is an agonizing decision. 

The show works at another level that I'm sure some of those reading this will appreciate; it's a kind of peak behind the curtain into the what it takes to run a successful webcomic. I would even go so far as to call it a boot camp. in the first nine episodes the show has covered topics from ranging from working with a partner, to developing marketable merchandise, to managing your own PR through outlets like Twitter. The notes given to the contestants and the lessons learned in the process are things that are applicable to my own practice, as I develop it, and my be relevant to some of those reading this as well. 

One of the best things about the show, is the respect with which departing contestants are treated. When one of them is told "you are not the strip we're looking for" and asked to go wait in the car they are shortly joined by Krahulik and Holkins who offer sincere words of encouragement. No one leaves having had a bad experience. It is this sensitivity to their contestants and to their viewers that elevates this above the base sensationalism of other reality programs and makes something that is truly engaging and entertaining. 

Highly recommended. 

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